WTA Charleston 2013 Draw Preview and Analysis

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For full draw, please click here: WTA Charleston 2013 Draw

The first major clay court event of the season gets underway in South Carolina this week, as Charleston once again hosts the Family Circle Cup. Having celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, the Premier tournament is a firm favourite with fans and players, and boasts another strong filed in 2013.

As ever, all eyes will be on Serena Williams. The American utterly dominated in Charleston last season, the start of a stunning winning streak on clay that culminated in her notorious first round loss to Virginie Razzano at the French Open. Serena is ultra-motivated to win all the Grand Slams, but nothing would please her more than lifting the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen in June, which is why she takes her clay court preparation so seriously.

The top eight seeds receive byes into the second round, and Serena shouldn’t have too much trouble seeing off either Mandy Minella or Camila Giorgi in her opening match. It is tempting to speculate that she will face a much sterner test in the third round, where she is seeded to face Sabine Lisicki. But the German has done precious little of note since Wimbledon last summer, and although she undoubtedly has the game to challenge Serena on her best day, Lisicki’s current lack of form and confidence all but rule out the possibility of an upset. Serena is more likely to be tested by one of the following women in the quarter-finals: Sorana Cristea, who stunned Angelique Kerber in Miami last week; Anabel Medina Garrigues, always dangerous on clay; or sixth seed Lucie Safarova.

The second quarter of the Charleston draw is headed by the second and third best American players: Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams. Fans were denied a chance to see these two play each other in Miami, as Venus had to pull out with an injury, but if both are fit and healthy this week, their last eight clash would be a must-see. Nothing can be taken for granted with Venus these days: she plays a limited schedule, and her game is definitely more prone to breaking down than it was during her prime. But she looks to have a viable route to the quarter-finals, the main obstacles being the off-form Andrea Hlavackova and two rising but inconsistent Americans, Christina McHale and Varvara Lepchenko.

Stephens could also meet a compatriot in her opening match. Bethanie Mattek-Sands has been playing well recently, and is experienced enough to ask questions of the 20-year-old Stephens, who is still struggling to adapt to the limelight following her fabled run to the Australian Open semi-finals. In the third round, Stephens is seeded to play Tamira Paszek, but the Austrian has never performed very strongly on clay and would not be expected to beat the youngster.

The second half of the draw is headed by a wild card and late arrival to the tournament, Caroline Wozniacki. The Dane perhaps chose to play Charleston in order to expunge memories of her disappointing early-round loss in Miami, and it could be a smart move. Wozniacki won the Family Circle Cup in 2011, and the green clay, faster than European red clay but slow enough to lessen the impact of power players, should suit her game. Had the draw been made a couple of seasons ago, much hype would have surrounded Wozniacki’s potential second round match with former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone. But the Italian has endured an extended slump since then, and now, in the twilight of her career, she is anything but a surefire pick to win her first round clash with Silvia Soler-Spinoza.

Instead, Wozniacki’s first test of the tournament is likely to come from Andrea Petkovic. The German has asked her fans to be patient as she makes a return to tennis following a series of injuries, but she has a winnable first round match against American wild card Taylor Townsend, and might even be the favourite to topple 14th seed Yaroslava Shvedova, who hasn’t played well since last summer. If Wozniacki can get past Petkovic, her last eight opponent could be seventh seed Carla Suarez Navarro, or nemesis Julia Goerges, who she hasn’t beaten since 2010.

The highest-ranked player in the final section of the draw is third seed Sam Stosur. A calf injury forced the Aussie to pull out of Indian Wells and then skip Miami, but she had been showing signs of improvement following a disappointing start to the season, and will be hoping to build her confidence further in Charleston. In her first match, she will face either Daniela Hantuchova or Marina Erakovic, two women who have performed better in doubles than singles recently. Provided Stosur plays consistently enough to earn a place in the third round, she could find herself up against Britain’s Laura Robson, seeded 16th.

Robson, the youngest player in the top 50, has had a disappointing run of results since beating Petra Kvitova in Melbourne, and has expressed frustration at her lack of progress. Much like Sloane Stephens, the left-hander needs to start beating lower-ranked players on a regular basis, and her relatively kind draw in Charleston gives her an excellent opportunity to do just that. She has a highly winnable opening match with Spain’s Estella Cabeza Candella, and will face a qualifier in the second round. Beating those opponents, combined with her doubles success in Miami last week, would serve as a major confidence boost for Robson, and a third round meeting with Stosur, her conqueror at the US Open last year, is an intriguing prospect. The winner of that match would most likely go on to face either eighth seed Mona Barthel or Jelena Jankovic, who had her best result in months when she reached the last four in Miami.

With five of the world’s top 20 playing in Charleston, the Family Circle Cup is set to be an interesting and entertaining start to the clay court season. Serena Williams is unquestionably the favourite, and she will be retuning to an event at which she lost only 15 games last year. That said, it is always fun to watch other players challenge the world number one. A Serena-Venus semi-final would grab headlines for obvious reasons, but a rematch of the Serena-Stephens Australian Open quarter-final would be just as riveting. A zoning Wozniacki or Stosur could perhaps trouble her in the final, but as she proved in her comeback defeat of Maria Sharapova in Miami, no one knows how to turn a match around like Serena Williams.

Predicted semi-finals: Serena def. Stephens

Wozniacki def. Jankovic

Champion:                  Serena Williams

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